A Rainbow of Iris

There are different classes and bloom-shape of Irises, but the tall bearded type is my favorite. The term ‘iris’ comes from a Greek word meaning rainbow. This seems appropriate, because the blooms come in all sorts of color combinations.  Bearded iris blooms have three parts: the upright standards, the drooping falls, and the fuzzy beards. Blooms can have all three parts of the same color or a dizzying array of combinations.

Put these rhizomes in well-drained soil where they will receive at least six hours of full sun during blooming season. Fertilize only with a low-nitrogen or no-nitrogen fertilizer. Excess nitrogen can cause bulbs to rot.

Bearded irises are divided into six different classes based on height, from the miniature dwarf that is less than eight inches tall to the tall bearded that are more than 27 inches. The shorter the iris, the earlier it blooms. Miniatures are the first, followed by standard dwarf, intermediate dwarf, miniature tall (what an oxymoron!), then border bearded. The tall bearded blooms last, in late spring. Plant the bulbs just deep enough to cover the rhizome and its feeder roots. Because the weight of the blade-like foliage can make them fall over, I trim the blades back to about six inches when I divide and transplant. On occasion I have used a landscape staple to secure the bulb in place while its roots grow a support system.

Most blooms are fragrant and look wonderful in cut arrangements. As they age, the flowers may bleed a bit, so use an under-plate to avoid staining linens, counters or furniture. Bearded irises need division every three to five years to look their best. If left undivided too long, they stop blooming. Most gardeners are happy to share their divisions.

The best time to divide and transplant is immediately after blooming, but that is the busiest time of year for most gardeners. In the Mary Snoddy garden, I have had good success with transplanting in late summer to early fall. Catalogs offer color combinations that will suit anyone’s taste. I have purchased several of the reblooming variety. While they did not throw a fall bloom the first year, I have enjoyed autumn blossoms every year since, all the way up to Thanksgiving.